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Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Higgaion (in which I become enamoured of another theistic blog)

There are several reasons why this blog has been swinging sharply towards atheism recently. The first is Daylight Atheism and its parent site Ebon Musings. An inspiring post on the former, an addiction to the atheist meditations on the latter... it has an effect on my interactions with the blogosphere. But then add Seedlings in Stone into the mix and we have a Christian source of similarly addictive meditative thinking which pulls my mind back to religion.

I am sorry to say that this state of affairs may have just got worse. Via Pharyngula I have wandered onto Higgaion, a blog written by one seriously sharp-thinking theologian who writes with the kind of clarity that can provide welcome organisation to your thoughts even when you disagree. This site is proof that 'theological sophistication' is not merely 'obfuscation so that we won't have to face the actual issues'. The author's thorough, even sweeping, understanding of the content and context of some biblical texts is beautiful to behold and provides an incredibly necessary perspective on religious issues. Consider, for example, the easy way he is able to draw on his expert knowledge if the Hebrew Bible in a minor point in this post (one of several) of Dawkins' The God Delusion:

Similarly, at the beginning of the section of chapter 2 subtitled “Monotheism,” Dawkins begins with a quotation from Gore Vidal that labels the Old Testament “a barbaric Bronze Age text.” “Barbaric” I can buy, at least for parts of the Tanakh, but Bronze Age? Only the most conservative of biblical scholars assigns any part of the Tanakh to the Bronze Age...
But it was towards the end of a critique of Pastor Wiley Drake's call to imprecatory prayer that I felt my strongest reaction.
As much as the faulty exegesis noted above annoys me, I think the stakes are bigger when it comes to hermeneutics and “application.” Drake seems to think that if a biblical writer spoke in a particular manner (e.g., imprecatory prayer), that’s a divine endorsement command for Christians today to speak in like manner. ... [In] The End of Faith, [Sam] Harris seems to operate on the same supposition as Drake: that imitation is the only faithful way to respond to biblical statements. This reminds me of my own denominational heritage, with its inordinate attachment to the song “Trust and Obey”:

Trust and obey,
for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
than to trust and obey.

To which I say, “Baloney.” (That’s too mild, but I try to keep the blog family-friendly.)
Oh, boy, did I love that. It gets better.
In sum, even if every single word of scripture was indeed dictated by God (which I don’t believe for a second, based on the bald statements of the biblical writers themselves), then it still would not be the case that the “only way” to respond faithfully to scripture is to “trust and obey.” Resistance can be a form of faithfulness, and indeed, sometimes it may be the only appropriate form of faithfulness. When the psalmists ask God to curse their enemies, we may rightly and faithfully say, “No.” When Ezra tries to break up marriages because of the ethnicities (or merely citizenship) of the husband and wife, we may rightly and faithfully say, “No.” And were we to think that God had said to us, “Go kill all your neighbors and live in their houses,” we might rightly and faithfully say, “No.”
Now don't ask me why, but when I read that part, I could have screamed in triumph. Yes, yes, yes, oh, sweet reason, yes! The author can argue Biblically for this! (Go look).

Look, I'm not a theist. I think there probably isn't a God and in this I disagree with Christopher Heard, whose blog has so impressed me. But the sheer scholarship of it all -- the sheer sense -- it's beautiful. It really is.


Alon Levy said...

Well, Dawkins and Harris are so simplistic that anyone with some relevant knowledge can write a very scathing critique of what they say. I know next to nothing about theology, but I could write a very long post using what I've read in social and political history showing that their arguments against religion are unfounded.

That's not to say Higgaion's post isn't insightful or scholarly, but Dawkins is a fairly easy target.

L.L. Barkat said...

I appreciate good thinking too. Which is why I have to agree with Alon above, regarding Harris. He is a terribly charismatic writer, with a tendency to take logical shortcuts. This bothers me! (not the charisma, the shortcuts)

As for the person you quote here, I'll have to check him out. I like the fresh voice and straightforward opinion.